Many cat owners would say that all cats behave inappropriately and this is a lot of their charm. It isn’t really possible to train a cat in the same way as you can a dog, but you can certainly modify its behaviour if it is impinging on the normal values which you like to adhere to in your house. What would be acceptable to one person would certainly not be allowed by another and so really the best way to live happily with a cat is to make sure that both of you are getting a reasonable quality of life, to your own requirements. It isn’t fair to take on an animal and expect it to behave in a way that isn’t natural to it just because it does not suit your lifestyle, but there are thresholds that make some behaviours unacceptable.
Cats scratch. That is something that cannot be altered because they need to clean off the top layers of their claws as they become ready to be shed and although some countries allow declawing it is not common in the UK and rightly so, as it is an unnecessary disfigurement of the cat. The best way to train your cat not to scratch your furniture, curtains, wallpaper, walls or whatever it has set its heart on is to give it something much more attractive to scratch instead. Some scratching posts come impregnated with catnip and whilst that will certainly be a draw at first, catnip only excites a cat for a few minutes and then it needs a break to ‘reset’ the receptors in its brain. During this time it could well rip your sofa to shreds, so it is perhaps better to leave the catnip flavoured scratching post alone and just pick one which looks as if it will give the claws a good workout.
Rope, hessian, rough carpet or bark are all good and there is no need to worry if it has the same surface as something you treasure, as it is location not the texture that will continue to attract the cat. The real point is not to allow a cute little kitten to claw the sofa because it just looks so sweet – it won’t be any good trying to stop a twelve pound tom with claws like a velociraptor to stop shredding the furniture. It will be too late.
Pica – inappropriate appetite
Many cats like to chew on wool or string and this is often associated with early weaning – rather as smoking is considered in people, and possibly with as little reason. If this is occasional it should not be too hazardous, but if you find that your cat does it all the time it could be dangerous, as ingested wool could cause an obstruction. Some cats eat even odder things and if you have a chewer of string in the house you must make sure that it doesn’t progress to electrical cable, which could easily be fatal, as well as making them dangerous for you if left in a chewed state with broken insulation. Pica often means that the cat is deficient in some part of its diet and it is a good idea to take it to the vet if the habit lasts, because it could have some underlying disease. Pica is not really the term to cover the odd eating habits of some cats.
Every cat owner has a story about some strange taste of one of their pets, from beetroot to crisps but on questioning it will often transpire that it was a one off and is just remembered for its narrative value. Some cats like to chew and their food doesn’t give them the opportunity. Cats enjoy a bone to chomp on just as a dog does and this may provide the answer. Otherwise, hide their food, so they have to ‘hunt’ it and this often stops inappropriate appetites.
The downside of cat owning is having to deal with the cat’s toilet habits. Some cats take to a litter box like a duck to water, others never really get the hang of it and if you have a cat which chooses to defecate and urinate wherever it has a fancy it gets very depressing and is a vicious cycle that is hard to break. The problem is getting rid of the smell because a cat will return to where it has ‘been’ before and tells this because of the smell, even if you can’t smell it yourself. There are very effective deodorants on the market for this purpose and they can be very useful. If your cat seems scared of the litter, try another kind. Some are quite noisy, others feel a little odd underfoot and others smell.
If a cat has had an unpleasant experience while using a particular substrate, it will never feel comfortable using it again and there is no recourse but to change it. A hint to new owners – never buy the bargain bag the first time. Make sure your cat will tolerate it first! If a change of substrate doesn’t work, try moving the tray. Cats need to feel secure and private when they are using the litter tray and so it will not be a success if positioned in a noisy or busy place.
Aggression and anxiety
These two problems often go hand in hand. An aggressive cat can just be one which feels threatened and so goes on the attack. If you have a rescue cat which is showing signs of aggression, it may be that it was ill treated by its previous owner or that it was one of a large group of animals and it couldn’t cope. A rescue cat should always come with instructions as to its likes and dislikes but sadly this often is not the case. If the cat is aggressive and you have children or other pets, this must be dealt with and the vet can almost certainly help, with advice about medication which can calm the animal at least while it gets used to you. There are over the counter products which can be used to calm a cat and together with some calm interaction from the owner often will do the trick.